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Music motivates Mary Free Bed patients, putting the harmony in rehabilitation

Sharlet Alagia was walking across the street when she was struck by a car in the crosswalk. The impact broke her back, and Sharlet underwent emergency surgery at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo to repair the injury to her spinal cord.

When she came to Mary Free Bed four days after the accident, Sharlet could only wiggle her toes. When she graduated just three weeks later, she was walking.

Music therapy is striking a chord with patients such as Sharlet, whose rehabilitation journey was nourished by her love for music.

“It was pivotal to helping me walk again,” said Sharlet, 57, of Battle Creek. “The music was calming, it was motivating, it made me feel like I could do this. I’m never going to forget this experience. I’ve got my legs back.”

Music is a universal language, and it’s now a key part of patient care at Mary Free Bed. A generous gift from the Doornink Foundation enabled the hospital to create a Music Therapy Program that improves rehabilitation outcomes.

Peter Muszkiewicz is a board-certified music therapist who works with patients individually and in tandem with physical, occupational, speech-language and recreational therapists. In Sharlet’s case, Muszkiewicz collaborated with physical therapist Chris Boer, accompanied by Adele tunes and even a little rap – Sharlet’s favorites.

“She arrived at Mary Free Bed barely able to move and made huge progress,” said Boer, who explained how music helped Sharlet progress from sitting to standing to walking. A steady musical rhythm improved her step pattern, timing and stability.

Under the umbrella of Mary Free Bed’s Recreational Therapy Department, music therapy uses clinical and evidence-based live-music sessions to facilitate recovery from a traumatic injury or illness.

“Music therapy is not entertainment,” said Muszkiewicz, who works with patients of all ages and varying diagnoses.

Here’s a video that shows several techniques Muszkiewicz uses to help patients achieve their rehabilitation goals.

Mary Free Bed also partners with the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Music for Health initiative to provide special visits by symphony musicians. Muszkiewicz leads these live musical performances.

Mary Free Bed is a not-for-profit, nationally accredited, rehabilitation hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich. For more than 125 years, Mary Free Bed has restored hope and freedom through rehabilitation for children and adults who have experienced brain injuries, strokes, spinal cord injuries, multiple traumas, amputations, cancer and other diagnoses. The combination of 110-plus specialized medical and sports rehabilitation programs and an exclusive focus on rehabilitation enables our specialty physicians and staff to help patients achieve outstanding clinical results. For additional information, visit maryfreebed.com.

More about Music Therapy

Music therapy plays an interventional role in rehabilitation:

  • Cognitive – Improves orientation, attention span and memory, problem-solving and decision-making skills
  • Emotional – Eases anxiety and depression, provides support during procedures, promotes self-expression and reflection, tool for pain management
  • Physical – Improves timing and coordination of movement patterns, endurance, sensory feedback
  • Speech and language – Increases verbal fluency, articulation, strengthens vocalization

The therapeutic approach is individualized to each patient and may consist of:

  • Singing or rhythmic chanting
  • Playing instruments, including guitar, keyboard, percussion and more
  • Moving to music
  • Listening to music
  • Song composition, lyric discussion
  • Guided relaxation



Diane Vander Maas

What an amazing addition to the Mary Free Bed therapies. Love love it! And seems like Peter is not only having a big impact on recovery, but enjoying himself every “note” of the way.


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